Georgia’s Book Reviews

Archived Reviews

September 2015

by Winston Graham

Masterpiece Theater aired the series, Poldark, this past summer to critical acclaim and appreciative viewers. The BBC production is faithfully based upon Winston Graham’s twelve Novels of Cornwall family saga. Season #1 covers the first two books: Ross Poldark and Demelza.

Graham’s inspiring tale is set on the windswept Cornish coast in late 18th century England. Captain Ross Poldark returns to Cornwall after three years of fighting in the American Revolutionary War to find that his father is deceased, his home overrun by livestock and drunken servants, and the woman he loves engaged to his cousin. England is in a serious recession, but Ross is determined to stay at Nampara, his family home, and bring its copper mine back into productivity.

Ross Poldark is an iconic hero who rivals Henry Darcy or Edward Rochester. He is handsome, rebellious, and brooding. A man of contradictions, he is honest and loyal, however, not always diplomatic. Ross is part of the landed gentry but often thumbs his nose at the aristocracy. He is capable of great kindness, but his impulsiveness and proletariat views often land him in trouble. Sympathy for the destitute leads him to rescue thirteen-year-old Demelza Carne from her violent father and employ her as a serving maid. This act will alter the course of his life.

Demelza plays an equally important role in the novels. She is not a typical 18th century heroine. When rescued, she is a street urchin, dressed in boys’ clothing. Five years later, she evolves into a young woman who is a bit rough around the edges, but whose liveliness, resourcefulness, and caring win the love of Ross. Theirs is not a perfect marriage – his lost love, Elizabeth, will continue to haunt their relationship. Demelza retains an enterprising spirit, generosity and disarming spontaneity despite life’s challenges.

The twelve Poldark books were written between 1945 and 2002. Winston Graham died one year after the last novel was published. They have never gone out of print and remain timeless and memorable. The books’ greatest strengths are Graham’s characterizations, which are many and varied, and his dialogues. The writing is fast paced, engaging, and descriptive. He frequently conveys the roughness and beauty of Cornwall: “Looking east, upon Hendrawna Beach, the sea was very calm today: a smokey grey with here and there patches of violet and living, moving green.”

History buffs will appreciate Graham’s meticulous research. The Poldark novels are about money, or the lack of it, and the shifting fortunes and social standing of the ruling and lower classes. The books are suffused with plenty of swash and buckle: adventure, humor, tragedy, and passion. The unforgettable characters span loves, lives and generations. It is storytelling at its very best.

For those who have not heard about The Poldark saga, or for those who would like to re-visit it, the Charlotte Library now has the first two books, as well as the Season #1 DVD, in its collection.